NFC North: Eric Weems

The Chicago Bears asked kick returner/receiver Eric Weems in March to take a pay cut from the $1.1 million he was scheduled to earn in 2014, ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson reported, and the veteran complied Thursday, according to documents obtained by ESPN.com.

Weems
The Bears reduced Weems' $1.1 million base salary for 2014 to $730,000, and the deal still includes a $100,000 workout bonus and escalators worth up to $500,000 for receptions. The new deal reduces Weems' cap figure of $1.6 million for 2014 to $1.33 million.

Weems was expected to be released if he declined the salary reduction.

Weems joined the Bears on a three-year deal worth $4.25 million in 2012 that included a $1.5 million bonus.

But when the Bears proposed the salary reduction, it was believed the club wanted Weems' deal to be similar to the contract signed in March by receiver Domenik Hixon. Hixon signed a one-year deal worth $730,000 that included $100,000 in roster bonus provided the receiver is active on game days, and Weems' new base salary for 2014 is the same.

A seven-year veteran, Weems contributed 13 tackles on special teams last season and caught one pass for an 8-yard gain. Weems was named to the Pro Bowl in 2010 as a member of the Atlanta Falcons.

Weems will compete against Terrance Toliver, Josh Bellamy, Hixon and Chris Williams for a dual role as receiver and special-teams contributor.

The club also asked Earl Bennett to take his second pay cut since 2013 but the receiver declined, leading to the Bears to release him on March 18.

ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson contributed to this report.

Bears release WR Earl Bennett

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
2:00
PM ET
Chicago Bears receiver Earl Bennett had his contract terminated, the team announced.

ESPNChicago.com reported earlier Tuesday that Bennett was expected to be released after he refused to trim his salary for a second consecutive year, according to a source.

Bennett
Bennett took a pay cut in 2013 and lowered his salary by $1 million.

Bennett had a cap number of $1.35 million (after the reduction) last year, but was scheduled to count $2.45 million against the Bears' cap in 2014 and earn a total of $2.45 million (that included a $100,000 roster bonus).

Bennett finished 2013 with 32 receptions for 243 yards and four touchdowns, but he had to miss the final game of the year versus the Green Bay Packers to be with his ailing brother who tragically died in the offseason.

When healthy, Bennett was a reliable target throughout his Bears career. After not catching a single pass his rookie year (2008), Bennett had 185 receptions for 2,277 yards and 12 touchdowns over the past five seasons in just 78 regular-season games.

Bennett is now free to sign with another team.

The Bears also have asked veteran kick returner/wide receiver Eric Weems to take a pay cut from the $1.1 million total salary he is scheduled to earn in 2014, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Weems is expected to be released if he declines the proposed salary reduction, per the source.
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears have asked veteran kick returner/wide receiver Eric Weems to take a pay cut from the $1.1 million base salary he is scheduled to earn in 2014, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Weems
Weems is expected to be released if he declines the proposed salary reduction, per the source.

Weems signed a three-year deal, $4.25 million that included a $1.5 million bonus. His salary cap number for the upcoming season is $1.6 million, but the Bears would have to carry $500,000 worth of dead money if Weems is released, making the total salary cap savings $1.1 million.

It’s believed the Bears want Weems’ contract to mirror the deal Domenik Hixon signed last week. Hixon inked a one-year, $730,000 deal that included $100,000 worth of roster bonuses if Hixon is active on game days (6.25K per game active).

Weems, a seven-year NFL veteran, made 13 special teams tackles and caught one pass for eight yards last season. He made the Pro Bowl in 2010 while a member of the Atlanta Falcons.

Weems is not the only wide receiver being asked to accept a salary reduction. Although it hasn’t happened yet, the Bears are expected to approach Earl Bennett about taking another pay cut after the veteran lowered his salary by $1 million in 2013.

Bennett had a cap number of $1.35 million (after the reduction) last year, but is scheduled to count $2.45 million against the Bears' cap in 2014 and earn a total of $2.45 million (that includes a $100,000 roster bonus).

The Bears could offer to allow Bennett to earn back the money in the form of incentives as the club did last year. Bennett finished 2013 with 32 receptions for 243 yards and four touchdowns, but had to miss the final game of the year versus the Green Bay Packers to be with his ailing brother who tragically passed away in the offseason.

Bennett has been a reliable target throughout his Bears' career when healthy. After not catching a single pass his rookie year of 2008, Bennett has 185 receptions for 2,277 yards and 12 touchdowns over the last five seasons in just 78 regular season games. Bennett is also a capable punt returner and could be in the mix to land the job with Devin Hester departing via free agency.
LANDOVER, MD -- Chicago Bears assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis appearance in the FedEx Field visitor’s locker room on Sunday after the Bears’ 45-41 loss to the Washington Redskins said it all.

Although the Bears prohibit assistant coaches from speaking to the media following games, DeCamillis’ foul mood can likely be attributed to a controversial fourth-quarter call that went against the Bears as the club attempted a surprise onside kick.

After a Robbie Gould field goal cut the Redskins’ lead to 38-34 with 8:44 left in the game, Gould executed a perfect onside kick that was recovered by Zack Bowman at the Bears’ 46 yard line.

However, the officials ruled that Bears’ special teams ace Eric Weems was offsides on the play, which negated the Bears’ recovery and forced Gould to re-kick. With the element of surprise no longer on the Bears’ side, Gould did not attempt a second onside kick.

Television replays of the Weems penalty appeared to be inconclusive.

Bears head coach Marc Trestman explained why the team called for the onside kick at that specific juncture of the game.

“We needed a possession back,” Trestman said. “We had planned for it. It’s something we had planned for during the week. Special situation football decisions are not made at that moment. It was evident that their offense was on the field too much.”

DeCamillis later called for another high-risk special teams maneuver when he instructed Devin Hester to lateral the football across the field to Joe Anderson during the Bears’ final kickoff return of the game. Anderson gained 25 yards on the play to give the Bears’ the football at their 38 yard line with 33 seconds left on the clock. But the Bears eventually ran out of time when Josh McCown got sacked on the final play of the game.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears returned to the field to resume workouts Monday, but continued to hold out defensive tackle Henry Melton and receiver Earl Bennett as the duo works through the steps of the concussion protocol to return to the field.

Melton and Bennett attended the session inside the Walter Payton Center during the portion of practice open to the media, but it appears neither has been cleared to return to activity. Considering the starters aren’t likely to play much, if any, during the preseason finale against Cleveland on Thursday, there’s no rush for Melton and Bennett to return to the field.

“Henry is into (the) running (phase of the concussion protocol). Earl is day-to-day," coach Marc Trestman said. "I know he was with some of the medical people this morning, I haven’t checked. Henry ran today. He’s going to run tomorrow and Wednesday and pick up that running significantly. That’s where he is at this point.”

However, the Bears have already begun preparations for the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 8, and the week leading into that outing would seem to be the target date for Melton and Bennett to rejoin the team for workouts.

As the club’s franchise player, Melton has already solidified his status as a starter. Bennett, meanwhile, is competing with Joe Anderson, Eric Weems, Terrence Toliver and rookie Marquess Wilson for one of the receiver spots behind Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Bennett hasn’t practiced with the team since suffering the concussion on Aug. 3 at Soldier Field after a hard hit from safety Chris Conte.

Melton suffered his concussion in the first game of the preseason at Carolina.

In other injury news, the team held out quarterback Matt Blanchard (hand), linebacker D.J. Williams (calf), offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (knee), defensive tackle (Corvey Irvin) (ankle) and cornerback Zack Bowman (hamstring).

Fullback Harvey Unga (ribs), defensive end Cheta Ozougwu (hamstring), and long snapper Patrick Mannelly returned to the practice field Monday after missing last week’s game at Oakland.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Defensive tackle Henry Melton and wide receiver Earl Bennett remained sidelined on Tuesday due to concussions, but both players watched practice from the sidelines for the first time since the Chicago Bears concluded the Bourbonnais portion of their training camp on Aug. 13.

However, Melton and Bennett have still not passed the NFL concussion protocol to return to action, and therefore both continue to be off-limits to the media, per league rules.

While veteran Nate Collins has elevated his game filling in for Melton at defensive tackle, the picture at the No. 3 wide receiver spot is cloudier with Bennett out. Wideouts Joe Anderson, Marquess Wilson, Eric Weems, Terrence Toliver and Devin Aromashodu have all been given an opportunity to run with the first and second teams in recent weeks, but quarterback Jay Cutler said on Tuesday that he has no input on which specific player would fill the void left by Bennett if his absence continues to drag on.

"They don't give me an opinion so we'll see who they throw in there," Cutler said. "We'll see who Marc (Trestman), Phil (Emery) and those guys like. Whoever is out there I trust that they can get the job done."

In other injury news, quarterback Matt Blanchard (hand), fullback Harvey Unga (rib), defensive end Cheta Ozougwu (hamstring), linebacker D.J. Williams (calf), long snapper Patrick Mannelly (rib), offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (knee) and defensive tackle Corvey Irvin (ankle) were all held out of Tuesday's practice.

The news on Blanchard is encouraging. The second-year quarterback is expected to miss about a month, but could still have a role on the team in 2013 in some capacity. Blanchard also remains eligible for the practice squad.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Wide receiver Marquess Wilson's sole responsibility in three years at Washington State was to catch the football, a job the Chicago Bears’ 2013 seventh-round draft choice excelled at.

[+] EnlargeMarquess Wilson
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneThe Bears' Marquess Wilson, center, runs for a long gain after a catch against the Panthers on Friday.
Wilson left school as the Cougars’ all-time leader in receiving yards (3,207), while ranking second in school history in receptions (189) and touchdown catches (23). Those numbers look even more impressive when you factor in that Wilson played in only 33 career games with 27 starts before leaving the team last year after a fallout with WSU head coach Mike Leach.

Wilson flashed in the Bears’ first preseason game with an impressive 58-yard catch in Carolina.

But one area Wilson did not contribute in college was on special teams, a phase of the game that almost every NFL reserve player must embrace in order to earn a spot in the 53-man roster. Wilson said the Bears are taking a look at him on the punt (gunner) and kickoff team.

“It was different coming from college where I never played special teams, Wilson said. “But (I’ll do) anything to get on the field.”

Bears head coach Marc Trestman stressed on Sunday the importance of Wilson making a mark on special teams. Otherwise, can the Bears afford to carry him on the 53-man roster?

“I think the truth of it is and the content of it is he’s shown he can do it (special teams) and then he’ll fall off and then we’ll have to pick him up again,” Trestman said. “He’s got to understand it’s so important for him to be a special teams player for us if he becomes a fourth or a fifth wide receiver and he is competing to be a fourth or a fifth wide receiver and you can see what Joe Anderson and Eric Weems do for us. That’s part of the job for a receiver that is not one of the top three, he’s got to be an active special teams player and give us the kind of play that Joe and Eric give us on special teams at this point.

“So, he’s just starting to understand the importance. I have seen him out there and when he’s active and when he’s focused he shows that he has the ability to do it. He’s a young player, he’s probably never done it before but he’s got to recognize how important it is because of where he would be on the roster presently to make special teams a priority as all the guys who are looking for roster spots who are not starters. We talk about that every day and I think it’s become clearer to him now and I think we’re going to see more because he’s shown flashes of it in practice.”

(Read full post)

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- In a practice filled with defensive highlights, defensive end Shea McClellin authored the play of the day on Tuesday when he sniffed out a screen pass and intercepted a hard-thrown ball from quarterback Jay Cutler in the flat.

McClellin initially rushed up field on the play from his end spot before anticipating the throw by Cutler and coming down with a difficult catch. If the sequence had occurred in a real game, McClellin would have scored an easy defensive touchdown.

[+] EnlargeShea McClellin
Bradley Leeb/US PresswireShea McClellin said he feels faster, and it showed on a nice play Tuesday.
"I was just doing my job and reading my keys," McClellin said. "The ball was right there so I picked it off. I was just doing my job. I feel faster out there than I did in the spring after I lost eight pounds. I still feel like I get a little heavier, but I'll work on that after camp.

McClellin has been in a groove the last week, routinely winning one-on-one battles with offensive lineman in individual and team drills. The likely plan for the former first-round pick is to move him around the defensive front, lining him up in a two-point or three-point stance depending on the defensive call or the matchup, while sometimes requiring that he cover a tight end or guard the flat on passing downs.

The Bears asked McClellin to do some of that last year as a rookie, but expect to see more of it in 2013. That's because McClellin should receive a significant boost in play-time in the Bears' three-man starting defensive end rotation that also includes Julius Peppers and Corey Wootton.

On the topic of defensive lineman moving around, the Bears had several lineman stand up in a two-point stance and either rush the quarterback or run with a tight end in coverage, the most notable being Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton.


  • As the wide receiver bubble starts to take shape, Joe Anderson is doing whatever he can to earn a spot on the Bears' final 53-man roster. A standout on special teams in the final three regular-season games of 2012, Anderson has made several impressive catches throughout camp.

    On Tuesday, he beat safety Major Wright down the deep middle of the field and hauled in a touchdown bomb from Cutler.

    "It was just a beautiful pass by Cut, man," Anderson said. "The safety sat and I just ran by him."

    Anderson has the necessary physical skills (6-foot-1, 196 pounds), but admits that he still needs to work on the mental aspect of his game. Anderson was an undrafted rookie free agent last summer out of Texas Southern.

    "I'm just as strong as Brandon Marshall or anyone else that is out here," Anderson said. "So it's not the physical part, it's more mental, like learning the fundamentals of the game. Just the little things that can get you open in tight coverages, and that starts in the film room, getting in your playbook and taking good notes in the meeting room. Then you need to come out on the field and apply it all."

    It appears to be an open competition at wide receiver after the top three on the depth chart. Wideouts Anderson, Eric Weems, Devin Aromashodu, Terrence Toliver, Marquess Wilson, Josh Lenz, Marcus Rucker, Britton Golden and Jerrell Jackson all figure to get an extended look in the upcoming preseason games.

    Wilson, the Bears seventh-round draft choice, is intriguing because although his 6-foot-4, 184 pound frame may not be ready to contribute much for the Bears on offense or special teams this season, would he clear waivers if the team cut him with the intent of bringing him back on the practice squad? The last thing the Bears want to do is completely cut ties with a 20-year old receiver, who if he stayed in school and continued producing at the same rate he had over his first three years at Washington State, would've been a first-round or second-round pick in 2014.


  • Wide receiver Earl Bennett (concussion symptoms), nickel back Kelvin Hayden (hamstring), linebacker D.J. Williams (calf), offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (knee) and Peppers (excused) were all sidelined on Tuesday.

    Left tackle Jermon Bushrod participated in just individual drills for the second consecutive practice as he eases back from a right calf strain.

    Defensive tackle Stephen Paea (hip) had full participation.


  • Team matriarch Virginia McCaskey watched the workout and later chatted with Bears general manager Phil Emery.
  • Football Outsiders, a statistics-based analysis service, has been producing division-by-division Insider files on remaining team needs. You'll need a subscription to read the entire NFC North post Insider, but below I've taken a few excerpts and written a few things about them.

    Chicago Bears
    Football Outsiders' issue: Receiver
    Football Outsiders comment: "When we pointed to wide receiver as a major flaw for the current Bears early in the offseason, it was to the consternation of a lot of Bears fans who saw the offensive line as the larger issue. The problem is that Jay Cutler is a see-it, throw-it passer. He's still a solid quarterback, but he's never thrown receivers open on a consistent basis. That amplifies the Bears' receiving problems, and while scheming can create the occasional big play for Devin Hester, Eric Weems, or Earl Bennett, they can't defeat man coverage often enough to benefit Cutler."
    Seifert comment: I'm not on board with describing Cutler as a "see-it, throw-it" passer. If anything, his arm strength and velocity give him too much confidence when it comes to throwing receivers open. (The phrase refers to putting the ball in a place that an otherwise covered receiver can catch it). I wouldn't argue that Bears' need for additional depth behind Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Bennett, but it's not because of any passing limitation on Cutler's part. There's just not much else behind them, especially as long as Hester works solely with special teams.

    Detroit Lions
    Football Outsiders' issue: Offensive line
    Football Outsiders comment: "The strength of this line in recent seasons has been pass blocking, as Detroit's offense has finished in the top 10 in adjusted sack rate for the past three seasons, but that is likely to take a hit from this offseason's turnover."
    Seifert comment: On the other hand, the Lions' new offensive line might be a better run-blocking group. That aspect has taken a back seat in recent years. I do think, however, that it's worth being concerned about putting your franchise quarterback behind a line with at least three first-time starters.

    Green Bay Packers
    Football Outsiders' issue: Offensive line
    Football Outsiders comment: "[M]uch like the Lions, the Packers are putting their faith in their quarterback to evade the pass rush this season. Unlike the Lions, the Packers don't have a lot of personnel turnover in this unit, but, also unlike the Lions, they finished second-to-last in adjusted sack rate last season."
    Seifert comment: There would be those who suggest that flipping the left and right sides of your line is football version of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. But every quarterback needs more help from their blind-side pass blockers. If you're going to have a strength and a weakness, it makes sense to shore up the left side first.

    Minnesota Vikings
    Football Outsiders' issue: Middle linebacker
    Football Outsiders comment: "Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway can take care of things in Leslie Frazier's nickel fronts, but the base 4-3 is lacking a thumper after Jasper Brinkley's departure in free agency. (Of course, given Brinkley's broken-tackle rate, they probably were lacking one even if he had come back)."
    Seifert comment: The Vikings clearly fell short in their attempts to find a long-term solution at this position during the offseason. They will give Henderson a chance to grow into it during organized team activities, but he was not their first choice. This position could well be atop their list of 2014 needs as well.

    Chicago Bears cut-down analysis

    August, 31, 2012
    8/31/12
    8:56
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    Most significant move: The most significant move of the final cut-down, and the entire offseason, is how aggressive the Bears were in trying to upgrade special teams. In free agency, they signed Eric Weems to help Devin Hester with returns. They kept undrafted safety Jeremy Jones to help on special teams, then traded fullback Tyler Clutts to Houston to acquire cornerback Sherrick McManis. They also kept linebacker Patrick Trahan to help out on special teams. Figuring the team will have a better offense, the Bears wanted to shore up special teams to keep their offense in good field position.

    Onward and upward: With only three draft choices making the 53-man roster -- third-round pick Brandon Hardin ended up on injured reserve -- the Bears need to see if they can slide released draft choices Isaiah Frey (sixth round) or Greg McCoy (seventh round) to the practice squad. The Bears may only keep one on the practice squad because both are cornerbacks. They also hope to get undrafted tackle James Brown through waivers to get him on the practice squad. The Bears kept the predicted eight offensive linemen on the active roster, so they need a tackle (Brown, A.J. Greene or Cory Brandon) and an inside prospect to fill out the practice squad.

    What’s next: The Bears aren’t standing pat. They ended up adding 16 new players to the roster and are in the process of signing defensive tackle Amobi Okoye as a backup. It wouldn’t be surprising if they look at Antonio Dixon, a defensive tackle released by the Philadelphia Eagles. A decision still has to be made on a punter. Adam Podlesh suffered a hip flexor injury, so the Bears kept undrafted punter Ryan Quigley on the active roster. It’s not out of the question for them to look for another punter who was released.
    Reviewing Saturday's action at Soldier Field:

    Chicago Bears 33, Washington Redskins 31

    Preseason record: 1-1

    Of interest: On an overall positive night for the Bears, three players encountered injuries worth monitoring. Punter Adam Podlesh suffered a hip flexor while trying to catch Redskins returner Brian Banks and will have an MRI on Sunday. Safety Chris Conte left the stadium with his right arm in a sling after suffering a shoulder injury, and rookie safety Brandon Hardin was carted off the field because of an apparent neck injury. Hardin was able to move his arms and legs and never lost consciousness. … Quarterback Jay Cutler's first action was productive. He completed four of his first five passes, including a 41-yarder to receiver Brandon Marshall on their first live play together in five years. … Rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery continues to suggest he'll be ready to contribute right away, turning a throw over the middle from Jason Campbell into a 34-yard gain and catching a team-high three passes. … Michael Bush's pair of red-zone touchdowns further strengthened the idea that he will be the Bears' red zone and short-yardage back. … Defensive end Israel Idonije had 2.5 sacks, including a forced fumble against the Redskins' Robert Griffin III. … It was a wild night on special teams. The Bears gave up a 91-yard scoring return to Banks, but Lorenzo Booker had a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Eric Weems also had a 48-yard return. Place-kicker Robbie Gould hit a 57-yard field goal with 31 seconds remaining to account for the winning margin.

    Local coverage: Podlesh thinks he'll be ready for the start of the season, according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times. … Coach Lovie Smith didn't think that Conte's injury was too serious, and the Bears are crossing their fingers on Hardin. Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune has more. … The Bears can live with how their offensive line played Saturday night, according to Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune. … It appears Jeffery has earned the trust of the Bears' quarterbacks, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com. … Melissa Isaacson of ESPNChicago.com: "This is a different Jay Cutler, with a different offensive coordinator and a different Bears team around him. ... Cutler and his new receivers showed the first glimpse of a passing offense that will be able to stand up to the better defensive backs while finally taking its place in a new NFL that isn't all that new anymore." … The Bears took a hard look not only at left tackle, between J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams, but also at left guard between Chris Spencer and Chilo Rachal, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.

    Up next: Friday at New York Giants
    Mike Priefer couldn't help himself. The Minnesota Vikings' special teams coordinator jumped this spring at an opportunity to interrogate one of the key performers of the Chicago Bears' elite special teams in recent seasons, hoping to find some ideas -- be it schematic or motivational -- to help his Vikings close the gap.

    So when veteran Zack Bowman signed with the Vikings last spring, Priefer pounced. He pulled Bowman aside immediately and, he told reporters, was "grilling him."

    "It was me trying to get information from him not only about the Chicago Bears and what they do and teach, but what made them so successful," Priefer said. "I know they have a great returner and they have a good kicker and a good punter, but the mentality that they take to every Sunday is where I want our guys to get to. That is a great challenge for us. The Bears, Packers and the Lions are all very good special-teams units and I want to see what made them so successful behind the scenes."

    Indeed, the Bears finished the 2011 season ranked atop the special-teams rankings maintained by our friends over at Football Outsiders. (FO analyzes how many points above the league average a special-teams group accounts for, including field position gained or lost.) The Packers were No. 8, while the Vikings ranked No. 27.

    It's true that most teams don't have an elite dual returner like Devin Hester, along with a secondary returner along the lines of Danieal Manning or Johnny Knox or Eric Weems. And the Bears have maintained veteran credibility at place-kicker with Robbie Gould and at punter with Brad Maynard and Adam Podlesh. But I think we can all agree the Bears' week-to-week swagger from their blockers and coverage units is an important part of their winning identity.

    What did Bowman, who is working on all four special-teams groups this summer, tell Priefer?

    "Basically," Priefer said, "they believed every time that they returned the ball, punt or kickoff, they had a chance to score. When you have a great returner, that’s the feeling you’re going to get. It makes guys work a little bit harder. They believe in it more. I think we had that on kickoff return a lot with all the long returns we had. We need to establish that on punt returns as well."

    One of the hot topics of Vikings training camp will be how much they use Percy Harvin as a kickoff returner. My guess is that coach Leslie Frazier will pick his spots. It's not clear who will take the rest of the kickoffs or handle punts. Rookies Jarius Wright and Josh Robinson, along with veteran cornerback Marcus Sherels, are all possibilities.

    CampTour'12: Bears Day 2

    July, 27, 2012
    7/27/12
    7:09
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    BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Let's roll through some thoughts and observations after watching the Chicago Bears' second training-camp practice:

    • One of the prettiest plays in 1-on-1 drills came when receiver Earl Bennett hauled in a long pass down the right sideline from quarterback Jay Cutler. Bennett used some crafty veteran contact with his left arm to keep cornerback Kelvin Hayden at bay.
    • After fans cheered Bennett's catch, cornerback Tim Jennings turned to the crowd and said: "Hey, we [cornerbacks] play for you guys, too." Jennings drew a laugh.
    • The Bears' three-receiver set has been pretty consistent: Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester and Bennett usually in the slot. When Hester was shaken up briefly during team drills, rookie Alshon Jeffery replaced him on the outside. So that gives you a clear sense of the depth chart as it stands now. If the Bears keep veterans Devin Thomas and Eric Weems for special-teams purposes, and that is quite possible, it will be difficult for 2011 slot receiver Dane Sanzenbacher to make the team.
    • Special-teams coordinator Dave Toub put out some interesting lineups during kickoff-return drills. Bennett was among those manning a front-line position. Two others were rookies, safety Brandon Hardin and tight end Evan Rodriguez. Historically, it's fair to make assumptions about a young player's chances to make the team based on his standing on special teams. In other words, it's looking good very early for Rodriguez, especially. Hardin was already a lock to make the team.
    • We didn't see new defensive tackle Brian Price on Friday, a day after the Bears acquired him in a trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, because his physical was not complete. The Bears indicated that should happen Saturday. According to the collective bargaining agreement, however, Price must ease into training camp with three unpadded practices before he can join the team fully. So it will be a bit of time before Price is up to speed.
    • For those interested in such things, during team drills, it was quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates who relayed plays via radio to Cutler. Bates stood next to offensive coordinator Mike Tice during the process.
    • In person, running back Michael Bush proved to be a much bigger dude than I thought he was. The Bears list him at 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, but when you see him in a T-shirt on rather than a jersey, you could easily mistake him for a linebacker or even a small defensive end.
    • The Bears' first full-pads practice is scheduled for Saturday night. I won't miss it.
    I planned out a Chicago Bears-related topic for this week's Blogger Blitz before the team announced a contract extension for linebacker Lance Briggs. That will make for a Bears-centric day on the blog, but as we've always said, these things even out.

    The video centers around the Bears' plans to re-focus Devin Hester once again on their offense, possibly at the expense of his role as a returner. Bears coach Lovie Smith indicated as much last month at the NFL owners meetings, as Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune notes. With Eric Weems and Devin Thomas on the roster, it's possible that Hester will work only as a punt returner in addition to receiver, while Weems and Thomas return kickoffs.

    I understand the lure, but I feel like we've been down this road before. In 2008 and 2009, the Bears worked hard to work more of his game-breaking skills into their offense. He responded with 51 receptions in 2008 and a career-high 57 in 2009. The tradeoff? He didn't return a single punt or kickoff for a touchdown in either year.

    Coincidentally or otherwise, the Bears pulled back a bit on his receiving duties in 2010 and 2011. Since that point, Hester has six returns for touchdowns.

    The Bears don't think this is an "either-or" proposition, and they might be right. To this point, however, it has been. What's more important? Getting more offense from Hester or getting a Hall of Fame performance as a returner?

    NFC North free-agency assessment

    March, 30, 2012
    3/30/12
    11:00
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    AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

    Chicago Bears

    Key additions: Running back Michael Bush, linebacker/special teams Blake Costanzo, quarterback Jason Campbell, receiver Brandon Marshall (trade), receiver Devin Thomas, receiver/returner Eric Weems.

    Key losses: Running back Marion Barber (retired), cornerback Zack Bowman, cornerback Corey Graham.

    Come on back: Lost in the shuffle of the Marshall trade were the return of three free agents who should play key roles in 2012. Tight end Kellen Davis figures to get an expanded role in offensive coordinator Mike Tice's scheme, especially as a receiver. Cornerback Tim Jennings should retain his starting role opposite Charles Tillman, with D.J. Moore in the nickel. And safety Craig Steltz will provide reliable depth at safety and will be one of the Bears' special teams leaders after the departure of Graham and Bowman.

    What's next: There is no urgency yet, but the Bears will need to make peace with tailback Matt Forte at some point before the summer. Forte isn't happy that he's been made the Bears' franchise player and briefly lost his public composure when Bush signed a deal that guaranteed him about the same amount of money as the franchise tag will pay Forte. It's not a big deal if Forte skips the Bears' offseason program or even misses a few days of training camp, but the Bears will want to find a way to eliminate this issue by early August. Meanwhile, it wouldn't be surprising if the Bears address their offensive line during the draft.

    Detroit Lions

    Key additions: Defensive end Everette Brown, cornerback Jacob Lacey.

    Key losses: Cornerback Eric Wright.

    All in the family: With the exception of Wright, the Lions were able to retain the core of their 10-6 team. Among those who re-signed: Tackle Jeff Backus, safety Erik Coleman, defensive end Andre Fluellen, quarterback Shaun Hill and linebacker Stephen Tulloch. And don't forget that receiver Calvin Johnson is locked up for perhaps the rest of his career. He signed a new eight-year contract worth $132 million.

    What's next: The Lions appear interested in adding competition at safety, having hosted free agent O.J. Atogwe earlier this month. Adding a safety remains a possibility, if not through free agency, then probably through the draft. And while Backus is re-signed for two years, it wouldn't be surprising if the Lions look for a long-term replacement in the draft.

    Green Bay Packers

    Key additions: Defensive lineman Daniel Muir, center Jeff Saturday, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove.

    Key losses: Quarterback Matt Flynn, center Scott Wells.

    Shocker: The Packers usually do whatever it takes to keep their own players and avoid having to search the free-agent market for other the castoffs of other teams. They started off that way by re-signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract, but when they were unable to sign center Scott Wells, they quickly targeted veteran Jeff Saturday and made him their first starting-caliber free-agent signee in five years. General manager Ted Thompson also authorized the acquisition of Hargrove and the pursuit of Dave Tollefson.

    What's next: It's not out of the question that the Packers will add a veteran pass-rusher, whether at defensive end or linebacker. Then they'll get back into their comfort zone and start preparing for the draft, where it's reasonable to think they'll use at least one of their 12 picks on a center while also continuing to pursue pass-rushers.

    Minnesota Vikings

    Key additions: Cornerback Zack Bowman, tight end John Carlson, running back Jerome Felton and offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz.

    Key losses: Nose tackle Remi Ayodele (release), guards Anthony Herrera (release) and Steve Hutchinson (release), tight end Jim Kleinsasser (retire), running back Jerome Felton.

    Methodical methodology: The Vikings made one big-money signing, bringing in Carlson as a new weapon for quarterback Christian Ponder, and otherwise have spent their offseason getting younger and signing complementary players. General manager Rick Spielman wants to end a cycle of seeking blue-chip players via free agency and instead count on the drafts for his difference-makers.

    What's next: One way or the other, the Vikings need to find a deep threat for Ponder. The draft would seem the most likely place for that will happen. They are also midway through a rebuild of the secondary that could use at least one more cornerback and perhaps two safeties.

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